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Nigh and Cromer protest tour cost

October 06, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN

daniels@herald-mail.com

Councilwomen Kelly S. Cromer and Penny M. Nigh opted not to accompany their fellow council members or city administrators for a two-hour tour of Hagerstown aboard a Wolf's Bus Lines coach Tuesday, even though there was enough room for them on the bus the City of Hagers-town rented for $684, both said in telephone interviews Wednesday.

The two decided to follow in a separate car for at least two reasons, one being a protest of how much the city paid to rent the bus and its driver for the afternoon to visit areas of the city where development and road improvement projects are slated to occur or have taken place, Cromer said.

"I know Penny and I were very disgusted that the city spent close to $700 to drive people around," Cromer said. "Initially, it was our intent to kind of do it as a protest to spending taxpayer money that way."

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Mayor Richard F. Trump, City Council members Kristin B. Aleshire and Alesia D. Parson-McBean, and 19 other city officials set off from City Hall shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday. Cromer and Nigh followed in a car and kept in touch by cell phone with Aleshire, Cromer said. Councilman Lewis C. Metzner was absent because he was observing Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holiday. The tour concluded at 6:15 p.m.

Aleshire said all members of the council were in favor of the tour when they discussed it during an Aug. 30 council meeting, though at the time there was no mention of how much it would cost to rent a bus.

He said one of the reasons for the tour was for council members to talk among themselves and with city staff about growth issues confronting the city. Without council members Cromer, Metzner and Nigh, he said, he felt the tour fell flat.

"You don't get a feel for a three-story wall of town houses that is supposed to be in concert with the neighborhood until you really see it," he said. "I think that the important part here is the goal of getting on the same page for how we want growth to occur. It may not have accomplished what the idea was when it was proposed, simply because of the breakup (of council members)."

Stops on the tour included the Hagerstown Business Park, land on Robinwood Drive where Washington County Hospital officials hope to build a new hospital, and the Fairchild Heights development of 36 town house units in the north end of the city.

City administrators, including Planning Director Kathleen Maher, Economic Development Director Deborah Everhart and City Engineer Rodney Tissue, took turns addressing the coach's passengers as the bus passed specific sites.

Nigh declined to discuss her reasons for not riding the bus, though she said she previously had seen most of the sites on the tour. Cromer said she felt she learned as much with Nigh as her tour guide as she might have on the bus.

"All the places that they went to on the bus were places I had already went to myself. They weren't taking me any place I hadn't already seen," she said. "I don't feel like I missed out on anything, and we were in constant contact with Kristin (Aleshire)."

Cromer said earlier in the day Tuesday - after the two decided on their protest of the trip's expenses - Nigh had a family emergency. In addition to the protest, she said, the two drove separately so Nigh would be able to leave as quickly as possible if that situation worsened.

"That way, if we got a call, we could have left immediately," she said.

Aleshire said he understands there may have been other reasons, but he dismissed as an afterthought Cromer's decision not to ride on the bus in protest of its $684 cost.

"That argument has never been proposed or discussed," he said. "I think all were in agreement (on the tour) at the time it was proposed."

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, in meetings for much of Wednesday according to his administrative secretary, did not return two calls for comment.

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